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Airbus Aerial receives waiver for urban BVLOS UAS flight operations in North Dakota

US: Airbus Aerial has been granted a waiver by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) operations in Grand Forks, ND without the need for a visual observer. The waiver allows Airbus Aerial to conduct such operations as part of North Dakota Department of Transportation’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) – a public–private partnership sponsored by the FAA to help define the regulatory framework for drone operations and their integration into the national airspace system.

“UAS are a critical aspect of the future of aviation in America – and, in fact, globally. We are honored to be a part of such an important, historic effort,” said Jesse Kallman, Head of Airbus Defense and Space’s Intelligence business activities in North America. “Waivers to this magnitude are not achieved unless you have an innovative team of partners that are extremely dedicated, working for the advancement of UAS integration initiatives while keeping safety at the forefront,” says Russ Buchholz, UAS program administrator for NDDOT’s Integration Pilot Program.

In 2018, the US Department of Transportation selected NDDOT as one of 10 state, local or tribal entities to participate in the FAA’s UAS IPP. The North Dakota team is working to safely incorporate UAS technology in three core challenge areas: conducting flights over people, night operations and BVLOS operations without the need for visual observers (VOs).

The Airbus Aerial work will focus on working with Xcel Energy to deploy a SenseFly eBee Plus fixed-wing UAS to fly BVLOS over the right-of-ways of Xcel Energy’s distribution networks in residential neighborhoods. This work is critical in equipping the utility industry to appropriately assess and utilize UAS and enjoy the benefits of a cost effective and scalable program across their entire network. BVLOS/OOP (Operation over People) operations are the only way to appreciate a significant increase in ROI with UAS technology and as the scale grows, the lessons learned and benefits will expand into new markets.

With more than 2,500 flight hours of BVLOS operations experience from military and civil operations, the Airbus Aerial team is well-experienced with this aspect of drone operations. However, the regulatory environment outside of governmental operations is much different. A novel methodology was used in the application for waivers from the FAA through the work by North Dakota’s IPP team (NDDOT, Northern Plains UAS Test Site and its partners). The approach is multi-pronged in that it advances operations through risk mitigations and reliability metrics with known platforms like SenseFly’s eBee Plus by greatly expanding on previously approved waivers and expanding operational envelopes. Underlying this approach is a reusable and adaptable framework to accelerate aircraft/operation waiver approvals utilizing a quantifiable risk-based methodology.